Saturday night – 01/26/2013

Occasionally I will ask one of the children who eat with us each Saturday night what they’d like for dinner the next week. The answer is almost always pancakes. 🙂 This week I asked one of the adults and she said Indian food… and carrot cake (or maybe it was the other way around). In any event we end up with this for dinner.

Menu
Cauliflower and Potato Curry
Baked Samosas
Roasted Red and Yellow Beets
Green salad with cucumbers

Carrot Cake (based on Alton Brown’s recipe)

Notes under the cut

Butternut Squash with Baby Spinach and Cranberries

This was a hit at our recent holiday party. While I meant it as a hot/warm side a number of our guests called it a salad and I’m OK with that. It was quite colorful as well; a really nice addition to the buffet table.

In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, this recipe is based on one from the grocery chain Wegmans.

Butternut Squash with Baby Spinach and Cranberries
Servings: 8-10 as a side; 15-20 as part of a buffet
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 75 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs. butternut squash (this was 3 squashes for me)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. cracked black pepper
  • 6 oz. baby spinach
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Cover a half sheet pan (or two rimmed cookie sheet pans) with aluminum foil.
  2. While the oven preheats prep the squash. Cut off the top and bottom. Cut each squash in half across the middle and then in half vertically so you have 4 pieces. Peel the skin with a serrated peeler. Scoop out the seeds and strands from the center. Finally cut the into 1/2″ cubes.
  3. Toss squash with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on squash onto the baking pan(s) into a single layer. Ideally you want a bit of space between your squash so that it has a bit of free space. Free space should promote browning. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork.
  4. While the squash cooks rinse and dry the spinach. Place the spinach and dried cranberries in a heat-safe bowl large enough to also hold the squash.
  5. When the squash is ready add it to the bowl with the squash and cranberries. Toss thoroughly and serve.

Notes:
Instead of peeling, cleaning and chopping the squash yourself you can do as the original recipe suggests and purchase already prepped squash. My experience is that the squash is sometimes a bit dried out and will certainly need to be cut into uniform pieces. If you want to save a bit of time, in exchange for a bit of money, already prepped squash is the way to go.

The original recipe called for chopped onion. I left it out of this recipe because one of our expected guests is allergic to onions and peppers. I’ll probably make it with onions at some point though because I think it would add an extra dimension to this dish. I’d go with 2 red onions, peeled, halved and sliced thinly into half moons.

This dish held up remarkably well. It was ready 45 minutes before our guests arrived. I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside. When I was laying out the buffet I microwaved it for about a minute just to reheat it a bit and gave it an extra toss for good measure.

Pesto Mozzarella Cups

Working with premade phyllo shells (sometimes labeled “fillo” in your grocers freezer) you can make some easy and tasty appetizers. I had purchased some locally-made pesto and had a bit of marinara that came with a calzone leftover. I picked up some “pearl” mozzarella balls at the store, along with the phyllo shells, and faster than you can recite Jabberwocky a tasty small bite was created.

Pesto Mozzarella Cups
Servings: 10-15 (figure 2 cups per person)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 pkgs phyllo cups
  • 1/2 cup pesto (store bought, locally bought, whatever you like)
  • 30 “pearl” mozzarella balls
  • 1/4 cup marinara sauce (again, whatever you like)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Remove the phyllo shells from the package to the baking sheet. Fill each shell with a scan 1/4 teaspoon of pesto.
  3. Top the pesto in each cup with a mozzarella ball. Spoon maybe a 1/4 teaspoon of marinara sauce over the mozzarella.
  4. Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 5 minutes. The shell should pick up a bit of color and the mozzarella should start to melt.

Notes:
I typically make these in 2 batches, starting the second batch when I notice that the plate holding the first batch is almost empty.

Corn and Ham soup

It’s been a rainy day and my husband has been sick for 3 days or so.  There really isn’t anything convenient to bring to work for lunch either. I didn’t really want to go to grocery store so I made a big pot of soup with leftover bits and pieces we had kicking around.

Ham and Corn Soup
Servings: 8
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 strips of bacon, chopped
  • 1 1/2 onions, small dice
  • 2 red peppers, small dice
  • 24 oz. frozen corn
  • 3″ piece of Parmesan cheese rind
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp. ground chipotle pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 lbs. ham, diced
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat a large pot over medium heat and add the chopped bacon. Cook for 5 minutes to begin rendering the fat.
  2. Add the onions, peppers and a big pinch of salt. Stir to coat in the bacon fat and cook until the onions and peppers begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the corn, stir to combine and heat for 2 or 3 minutes until the corn starts to thaw.
  4. Add the cheese rind, broth and water. Stir and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce to a simmer and add the potatoes. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the diced ham, chipotle and thyme. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Check one of the potatoes; if you can pierce it easily with a fork then soup is on.
  8. Taste the soup and add salt/pepper to your taste.

Notes:
I used a mix of regular frozen corn and frozen roasted corn from Trader Joe’s.

I keep a jar of Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base in the fridge so I can always have a broth available when needed.

Holiday Party 2013

A bunch of years back we started holding our annual Winter Holiday party in January. We get to keep the tree up a bit longer than most folks and it is a bit easier on everyone’s schedule.

Here’s our menu from last night. Comments below.

Apps
Bacon Turnovers (Savuer)
Tattooed Potato Tart (Pepperidge Farms)
Pesto Mozzarella Cups
Guacamole and tortilla chips
Baked Zucchini Sticks(King Arthur Flour)
Carrots and Sweet Onion Dip (see previous KAF link for the dip recipe)
Cheese, crackers, olives

Main dishes
Milk Pork (Laura Calder, French Food at Home)
Bulgar Risotto with Roasted Corn (Epicurious)
Butternut Squash with Baby Spinach (Wegmans)

Desserts
Poppy Seed Snacking Cake (Eggton Blog)
Chocolate Peppermint Bark
Fruit and Nut Bark
Brown Sugar Cookies (Cook’s Illustrated)
Stuffed Pumpkin Empanadas
Rum Balls (a gift)
Fig Cookies (Wegmans)

Notes under the cut